Iran has denied scrapping its morality police after officials declared that the feared unit, whose conduct helped trigger months of protests, ‘had been closed’.
Iran’s attorney general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said on Saturday that the ‘Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary’ and have been ‘abolished from the same place it was launched,’ according to the ISNA news agency. He also said the parliament and judiciary were reviewing Iran’s mandatory hijab law.
That was interpreted as meaning the morality police – which enforces veiling laws in the strict Muslim country – was being shut down, after it came under fierce scrutiny when a detainee, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, died in its custody in mid-September.
However, Iranian state media noted reports abroad and said that Montazeri’s comments had been interpreted incorrectly, saying no declaration had been made, and that the morality police continues to operate. Other reports noted that the unit had been largely inactive since the protests broke out after Amini’s death.
Iran has denied scrapping its morality police after officials declared that the feared unit whose conduct helped trigger months of protests ‘had been closed’. Pictured: An Iranian police officer speaks to a woman inside a car after pulling them over (file photo, 2007)
Amini had been held for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress codes, which dictate women must cover their heads in public. Her death unleashed a wave of unrest that has grown into calls for the downfall of Iran’s clerical rulers – with the crackdown by the Iranian regime resulting in hundreds of deaths.
Iran’s chief prosecutor Mohamed Jafar Montazeri said on Saturday the morality police ‘had been closed,’ the semi-official news agency ISNA reported. The agency did not provide details, and state media hasn’t reported such a purported decision.
‘We know you feel anguished when you witness [women] without a hijab in cities, do you think the officials are silent about it?’ Montazeri said.
‘As someone who is in the field of this issue, I say that both the parliament and the judiciary are working, for example, just yesterday we had a meeting with the cultural commission of the parliament, and you will see the results within the next week or two,’ Montazeri was quoted by ISNA.
When asked by a reporter whether the unit would be abolished, he said: ‘Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary. It was abolished from the same place it was launched. Of course, the judiciary will continue to monitor society’s behaviour.’
In response to subsequent reports abroad about Iran abolishing the unit, Arab-language Al-Alam state television said all that could be understood from Montazeri’s comments was that the morality police was separate from the judiciary.
‘No official of the Islamic Republic of Iran has said that the Guidance Patrol has been shut,’ CNN quoted Al-Alam as saying on Sunday afternoon, following the reports.
‘Some foreign media have attempted to interpret these words by the prosecutor-general as the Islamic Republic retreating from the issue of Hijab and modesty and claim that it is due to the recent riots.’
Mahsa Amini had been held for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress codes, which dictate women must cover their heads in public. Her death unleashed a wave of unrest that has grown into calls for the downfall of Iran’s clerical rulers – with the crackdown by the Iranian regime resulting in hundreds of deaths. Pictured: Protesters in Iran, September 21
In a report – also carried by ISNA on Sunday – lawmaker Nezamoddin Mousavi also signalled a less confrontational approach toward the protests.
‘Both the administration and parliament insisted that paying attention to the people’s demand that is mainly economic is the best way for achieving stability and confronting the riots,’ he said, following a closed meeting with several senior Iranian officials, including President Ebrahim Raisi.
Mousavi did not address the reported closure of the morality police.
As of Monday, there was no evidence to suggest that any changes to the law – which was brought in following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 – is on the horizon.
The morality police, known as the Gasht-e Ershad or ‘Guidance Patrol’, arrested Amini – a 22-year-old Kurdish woman – more than two months ago, and set off violent protests nationwide when she died days later.
The unit was established under president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2006 to ‘spread the culture of modesty and hijab’, and is responsible for enforcing Iran’s strict Islamic dress code, as well as other laws.
Since September, there has been a reported decline in the number of morality police officers across Iranian cities and an increase in women walking in public without headscarves, contrary to Iranian law.
Montazeri, the chief prosecutor, provided no further details about the future of the morality police or if its closure was nationwide and permanent. However he added that Iran’s judiciary will ‘continue to monitor behaviour at the community level.’
The morality police, known as the Gasht-e Ershad or ‘Guidance Patrol’, arrested Amini (pictured) – a 22-year-old Kurdish woman – more than two months ago, and set off violent protests nationwide when she died days later
Saturday’s announcement could signal an attempt to appease the public and find a way to end the protests in which, according to rights groups, at least 470 people have been killed in clashes with authorities.
Demonstrators have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans, and a growing number of women have not been observing hijab – particularly in Tehran’s fashionable north.
More than 18,000 people have been arrested in the protests and the violent security force crackdown that followed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the demonstrations. Some have been sentenced to death.
Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said Montazeri’s statement about closing the morality police could be an attempt to pacify domestic unrest without making any real concessions.
‘The secular middle class loathes the organisation (morality police) for restricting personal freedoms,’ said Alfoneh. On the other hand, he said, the ‘underprivileged and socially conservative class resents how they conveniently keep away from enforcing the hijab legislation’ in wealthier areas of Iran’s cities.
When asked about Montazeri’s statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian gave no direct answer. ‘Be sure that in Iran, within the framework of democracy and freedom, which very clearly exists in Iran, everything is going very well,’ Amirabdollahian said, speaking during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia’s capital.
The anti-government demonstrations, now in their third month, have shown no sign of stopping despite a violent crackdown by Tehran.
Protesters say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression, including a strict dress code imposed on women.
Young women continue to play a leading role in the protests that have gained global attention, stripping off the mandatory Islamic headscarf to express their rejection of clerical rule.
After the outbreak of the protests, the Iranian government hadn’t appeared willing to heed the protesters’ demands. It has continued to crack down on protesters, including sentencing at least seven arrested protesters to death. Authorities continue to blame the unrest on hostile foreign powers, without providing evidence.
But in recent days, Iranian state media platforms seemed to be adopting a more conciliatory tone, expressing a desire to engage with the problems faced in Iran.
Iran’s chief prosecutor Mohamed Jafar Montazeri said on Saturday the morality police ‘had been closed,’ the semi-official news agency ISNA reported. However, Iranian state media has since reported this has been misinterpreted. Pictured: An Iranian police officer speaks to a women in a headscarf in Tehran (file photo, 2007)
The hijab headscarf became obligatory for all women in Iran in April 1983, four years after the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the country’s US-backed monarchy.
It remains a highly sensitive issue in a country where conservatives insist it should be compulsory, while reformists want to leave it up to individuals to choose.
In recent years, with changing clothing norms, it became commonplace in some parts of Iran to see women in tight jeans and loose, colourful headscarves.
But in July this year President Raisi, an ultra-conservative, called for mobilisation of ‘all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law’.